Escape from Planet Earth

If there was a chart to rate the laughter of children, I think it would go something like this.

Snort : the sound a child makes when their mom makes a joke
Chuckle : the sound a child makes when their dad makes the same joke
Giggle : the sound of tickling
Laugh : the sound of Tom & Jerry watching
Guffaw : the sound a child makes when they laugh with their whole body

We laugh at lot, as a family, but even I know to treasure the guffaws, because they are as spontaneous and joyous as fireworks on a summer's night. In our house, they are usually triggered by Dad walking into a wall, or Gilligan's Island, or Kieran beating the big kids with his foam sword.

I also heard it this week when we took the big kids to watch "Escape from Planet Earth."

We had the whole theater to ourselves Tuesday afternoon, so we didn't have to reign in their guffaws. Or their shrieks. Or their belly laughs.

I love it when a movie is hysterical.

The trailer tells the story better than me, but if you don't have time to watch, here's a quick synopsis: Astronaut Scorch Supernova (voiced by Brendan Fraser) is a hero on his home planet, Baab. A master of daring rescues, Scorch pulls of astonishing feats with the aid of his nerdy-but-brilliant, by-the-rules brother, Gary (Rob Corddry), head of mission control. But when Scorch is sent to answer a mysterious SOS from the Dark Planet (played by Earth), he finds himself trapped by the evil Shanker (William Shatner), a human intent on destroying all alien life. It's up to risk-averse Gary to play action hero now, with the help of his wife (Sarah Jessica Parker) and their adventure-hungry son, Kip.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in the film, sure to please kids of any age. But the film also has a heartwarming message of family and sacrifice and love at all costs.

And I'll admit, I loved the character of Kira, a stay-at-home mom who defies expectations.

Will this movie win any awards? Probably not. But it's the perfect family diversion for a mid-winter afternoon.

How'd you like to see it for free?

I'm giving away a Movie Goers Goodie Bag, which includes popcorn, candy and a $25 gift card to buy tickets to "Escape from Planet Earth." To enter, just click the +1 in the Rafflecopter widget below. The contest will close Sunday, February 24, at midnight.
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The Weinstein Company provided the prize for this contest and compensated me for the review. My opinions are my own.
For more detailed information on "Escape from Planet Earth," I recommend Plugged In.

I'm Wearing Sparkly Green Earrings to my Blog's Birthday Party

Six years ago today, I started this blog.

My first post was painful to write. But I was a little giddy when I finally hit publish. And even more giddy when I immediately got a comment from a stranger.

Who never came back.

Welcome to the blogging world, kid.

My entry into this crazy, vast, amazing universe can be attributed to three blogs: Baby Bangs, Boo Mama and Big Mama. I found Amanda first; it was she who introduced me to the concept of a relational blog. I found Boo Mama next; it was Sophie who introduced me to the concept of college football. And then I found Big Mama; it was Melanie who introduced me to the snort-laugh.

Of course, back in rugged 2007, we didn't know each other's first names. We were all still debating whether we should post pictures of our kids on the Internet. (The entire membership of Instagram just howled in laughter.) I still remember the shock and awe when both Boo and Big unveiled their real-life names on their blogs. It was surreal. I walked around for a week trying it on in my head. "Melanie. Sophie. Melanie. Sophie."

We were weird back then, back at the very beginning of all things.

Anyway. Because of these blogs, my daily habits started to shift. I ate my morning bowl of Kashi sitting in front of the laptop. I told my closest friend about the day-to-day antics of people I had never met. "And then Big Mama had to make Caroline a float for this thing called Fiesta..." I checked my bookmarked blogs a couple of times a day, just in case something new had been posted (this was before I knew about feeds), and I looked forward to Monday mornings so I could hear what happened on the weekends.

I grew to love the camaraderie, the community that formed online. These women wrote about their everyday lives and made the mundane funny and meaningful.

I had found my people. And I wanted to play.

So on February 17, 2007, I jumped into the deep end, and my life was forever changed.

You might have read on a few blogs that Big Mama just released her first book.

Sparkly Green Earrings is everything you would expect from Melanie and more. It is, first and foremost, one of the funniest takes on motherhood you've ever read. She wrote on her blog the day before it was released:

Sparkly Green Earrings is so special to me. I remember being about ten years old and picking up a copy of Erma Bombeck’s book If Life Is A Bowl of Cherries Then What Am I Doing in the Pits? and reading it from cover to cover because I thought it was hilarious even though I had to be too young to understand some of it. And while I am no Erma Bombeck, I wanted to write a book that you could leave out on your coffee table and not be afraid for your ten year old to pick it up and start reading. In our culture of trashy commercials and other questionable things, that’s become a rarity. I wanted to write a book that will hopefully make you laugh and cry and feel a little less alone.
And I howled with laughter at that, because I, too, read Erma Bombeck when I was a kid, and I didn't really get it but I knew it was funny stuff. Like, classic funny. Withstand the test of time funny. And Melanie has that gift too.

Long-time readers of her blog will recognize the outline of much of the book: her pre-child life as a pharmaceutical rep, her pregnancy with Caroline, tackling motherhood first as a working mom and then as a stay-at-home mom. We go along in as she takes road trips with Gulley, her best friend, and we nod wryly as she faces yet another fashion crisis with Caroline. But there is so much new material here. It fleshes out stories only hinted at on Big Mama. It dives deeper into her feelings about her miscarriage and her life with her husband Perry and what she really thinks about the wisdom of a sleepover birthday party for a collection of six-year-old girls. (Spoiler alert: She thinks it's Tim Duncan's shoe.)

I loved every minute of Sparkly Green Earrings. And I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Corey for putting up with me while I read this book in bed. It's hard to sleep when your wife is doing the whole-body, silent-shake, spaz-laugh next to you.

I'm delighted to pass on the spazzing. I have a copy of Sparkly Green Earrings to give to one reader. Just click the +1 option in the Rafflecopter widget below, and you'll earn yourself an entry. It's as easy as that. The giveaway will close at midnight on Friday, February 22.

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Easy and Creative Homemade Valentine's

I don't know if this is true everywhere, but here in Minnesota, homemade treats are not allowed in the classroom. I think it stems from allergy concerns, which I understand. But it bums me out a little when my child has to bring in store-bought cookies or cupcakes to celebrate their birthday or some other special occasion at school, instead of a fun, creative, often-healthier homemade snack.

Valentine's Day appears to be the one exception to this rule. A few years back, Natalie and I made a big batch of homemade marshmallows, tinted pink, then cut them into hearts using a heart-shaped cookie cutter. We packed them in clear, cellophane bags and attached a Valentine. They were a huge hit. And that started us on a tradition of making our Valentine's, instead of buying the boxes of prefabs at the store. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. No condemnation, right?)

Last year, we set a new benchmark for fun homemade Valentine's. And they were easy. Maybe that's because they both begin with store-bought candy. But that's OK, because it simplifies the process, so you can focus on the customization. The best thing about these Valentine's is the personal touch your kids put on them.

Connor (a second-grader, at the time) made these Superhero Suckers. We found the idea and the template for the cape and mask at Family Fun (now

My been-there, taped-that tips:

1. Use either Tootsie Pops or Blow Pops for the base. They are big enough to support the accessories. (I bought ours from a dollar store. Super inexpensive that way.)
2. If your boy is old enough, have him trace the capes and masks onto construction paper or card stock. If you're feeling brave, let your boy choose the color. (Connor chose black; no surprise. I compromised by having black capes and red masks.)
3. Have your boy write his message on the cape. (We used a gray crayon to write on the black paper.) Use a hole punch to make a hole near the neck and slide it all the way up the sucker stick; the hope is the wrapper will hold the cape up.
4. Color in the eye patches on the masks and wrap around the sucker and secure with a small piece of tape.
5. We used a square of Styrofoam to store and transport our assembled Superhero Suckers. Stuffing them all into a bag would have ruined their costume.

Natalie (in fifth grade last year) went a different direction. She made Chocolate Diamond Rings, using Hershey's Kisses and pipe cleaners. (We also found this idea on Spoonful, nee Family Fun.)

My tips:
1. This is a harder craft. Spoonful has good directions, with pictures, but don't attempt this unless your child has a bit of tenacity. Making Valentine's should be fun, not stressful, you know?
2. We used Kisses leftover from Christmas.(I know! Should I even admit that on the Internet?!?) The silver ones look best, obviously; they are the most diamond like. But Natalie thought the red and green ones looked jewel-like too. So we went with it.
3. Spoonful recommends using a hole punch to make the labels easier to wrap around the ring. That was hugely helpful.

This year, Connor wants to try a non-candy Valentine. We're going to attempt these Lego Star Wars cards that use glow sticks as light sabers. (Seriously. Who thinks of this stuff? I love creative people.) And Natalie is going to make these s'more Valentines. I swoon. (Both those ideas are on my I {heart} Valentine's Pinterest board, by the way. Because I really do.)

If you're looking for other creative Valentine ideas, this one detailed by Kristen Howerton is super cute and very popular. And I adore this sucker + mustache or lip combo.

Have any other Valentine's ideas or links to share? I'd love to see what you're making.

The Messiah Mystery : A Family Lenten Journey

It's one of those things that bugs me: Why is Christmas a season? And Easter a day?

We need both holy days, desperately. Both are reason to celebrate. Both herald a new beginning, the dawn of a new age.

But one could argue that Easter is more important. Obviously, without Christmas - without the birth of Jesus - there would be no resurrection.

But without Easter, there is no hope.

So it gets under my skin a bit, that we have endless parties and traditions and songs and foods to mark Christmas, but very little to make Easter meaningful. (And things like Easter egg hunts and pretty dresses don't count in my mind. Those are celebrations of spring, not of Jesus.)

I especially want my kids to understand the awe of Easter. I want them to know the reason why Jesus' coming is the epicenter of history, why his death matters, why his new life changes everything. I want them to get caught in the downpour of joy that can only come when we find Jesus alive again. I want them to feel the mountains tremble.

And to do this, I think they need to experience Lent.

Maybe not the way adults do it. Telling my five-year-old that she can't eat chocolate for the next six weeks is not going to draw her nigh to God, you know what I mean?

But I think we need more than a weekend to cover this. We need a build-up, a countdown, a reminder of what's coming. I want anticipation.

The back of my brain is always chewing on this, on how to make Easter relevant and real to my family.

Last year, I had the opportunity to test out a new product being developed by FamilyLife co-founder Barbara Rainey called The Messiah Mystery. It's a six-week journey, designed to begin on Ash Wednesday, that leads kids to follow clues and discover the true meaning of Lent and prepare for Holy Week. It's an easily adaptable resource. Have little kids who can't sit still during Bible reading? Just read the bold sections of the devotional. Need to condense six weeks into four? No problem. Since there's really just one big activity a week, you can adapt. Want to make the lessons really interactive for antsy kids? There are ideas for that.

I especially love the reason why Barbara created The Messiah Mystery. She says, in the intro: "I remember well how busy I was as a mom of six. It was a challenge to create meaningful moments with my children. So I've worked hard to make "The Messiah Mystery" as easy to use as possible."

Don't you love that? She's like a busy mom's elf. She does the work, and we reap the benefits.

This year, I have The Messiah Mystery 2.0, as it were.

Barbara and her team modified last year's beta version to produce an updated, even more exciting kit. There's just one problem: It already sold out.

Of course, that makes this giveaway that much more awesome, because I have one of the few remaining kits to give to one of you. It's a limited edition, y'all.

The kit includes instructions, a journal filled with stories and clues, a magnifying glass, two clue books to document your discoveries, and a 20”x 24” poster with 40 paper strips that reveal a beautiful image on the final day of Lent.

I've had some technical difficulties with my blog this week, so to up your odds, I'm going to leave the giveaway open until Ash Wednesday, February 13. FamilyLife has promised to mail The Messiah Mystery kit right away to the winner, so you won't be far behind. And a quick note: You can enter the contest once a day by Tweeting about it. Feel free to exploit that option. Happy clicking!

(If you aren't familiar with Rafflecopter, don't be scared by the widget. Just click the +1 next to each option and then hit the big "Enter!" or "I Tweeted" or "I'm a Fan" button after you earn an entry! If you've done it right, you should see a big "Done!" button replace the +1. And if you're really observant, you'll see the number of total entries at the top of the widget grow by one with every entry you make. You can also check the number of entries you have in the top right corner; if you've used every option to enter, it will say 3/3.)

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In Which I Realize Coffee Is the Moral of the Story

Last week was brutal. One of the longest weeks of solo-parenting to date. By the time I got to Friday, I was crawling toward the finish line when Corey would get home, sweat soaking my hair and dirt under my fingernails.

The thing that saved my life each day: a two-hour nap with Kieran, while Teyla played on my iPad in the next room. (Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God.) And even still, I operated in zombie mode most of the time. My brain was fogged, and my world kept spinning and I couldn't focus to save my life. I wandered around my own house in a daze, I carried around the same set of doll clothes for 10 minutes because a. I forgot I was holding them and b. I couldn't really remember why I had picked them up. I let the kids play Wii and watch TV way longer than I should have, simply because I didn't know what else to do with them. I was a mess.

Which might explain why it took me until Friday to realize: I hadn't had a cup of coffee all week. It was unintentional. I was queasy, from the vertigo, and coffee always smells horrible to me when I'm nauseous. So I mostly drank tea and ate bland things like toast and yogurt and the occasional McChicken - you know, the normal things one eats when sick. And I didn't have headaches or anything, so I figured I was doing good without my usual mainstay.

But Friday morning, a thought pierced the haze: I wonder if my brain isn't working because of lack of caffeine?

I swung by Caribou to test my theory, and lo and behold: I was a different woman by afternoon. I was still dizzy and in vacation recovery. But the stupor was gone. I could think again. I didn't fall asleep reading my kids a book. I went to bed after 10:00 PM.

Turns out, coffee is a bit of a pick-me-up. Who knew?

Moral of the story: Sometimes you need a cup of coffee to realize you need a cup of coffee.